Sao Paulo, Brazil, where The World Cup is being held, has confirmed poliovirus has been detected in a sewage sample taken from one of the state’s international airports.
The findings come as a surprise since Brazil has been classified as polio-free since 1989, leading experts to speculate the virus is an isolated incident, likely brought in from one of the many global visitors spending time in the country for the athletic events. In fact, Brazil’s authorities say the strain of poliovirus found matches one currently circulating in Equatorial Guinea.
The virus was detected through routine surveillance in March 2014 at Viracopos International Airport. Brazil has been randomly sampling for poliovirus since 1994, and this incident aside, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates the tests have always come up negative.
Though Brazilian health officials have stepped up their monitoring due to the positive test result, WHO maintains that Brazil is still considered polio-free, though they indicate “all travellers to and from polio-affected areas be fully vaccinated against polio,” and note, “Brazil has detected a poliovirus importation event. Based on current evidence, the country is not considered polio-affected.”
What is poliovirus?
Though considered annihilated in many parts of the world, poliovirus still affects a number of people annually. The National Museum of American History indicates, “There are three types of poliovirus and many strains of each type. The virus enters through the mouth and multiplies in the throat and gastrointestinal tract, then moves into the bloodstream and is carried to the central nervous system where it replicates and destroys the motor neuron cells. Motor neurons control the muscles for swallowing, circulation, respiration, and the trunk, arms, and legs.”
Individuals with polio may have no symptoms at all while other experience paralysis and even death. The virus can strike anyone, at any age, and prior to a vaccine was responsible for crippling approximately 35,000 people annually in the United States alone.
Thanks to vaccination technologies, the medical world was eventually able to eradicate polio in the U.S. and a number of other countries as well, but a handful of countries–predominantly in Asia and Africa–still experience outbreaks.
Brazil has been on of the countries with the most successful rate of polio vaccination globally, conducting annual outreach and awareness programs to promote the vaccination of children through oral immunization. Medical News Today reports that the last national oral polio vaccine (OPV) campaign was conducted in June 2013, and routine immunization rates in Sao Paulo state and Campinas municipality have been higher than 95 percent.
As of this moment, Brazil is not raising the alarm about the detected poliovirus strain at the international airport, but visitors and locals are advised to be extra aware of personal hygiene and vaccination advisories during time of high international travel to the country.